I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a scientist. I have always wanted to know how everything works. The answer, without fail, absolutely fascinates me.
I am a pretty hardcore dork. I went to maths camp when I was fifteen, where I was one of five girls, and biology camp (technically the “New Zealand International Biology Olympiad Training Camp”) just over a year later, where I was one of just three. That’s not something that ever fazed me, but it can be pretty intimidating and lonely the first few times it happens. The facts are simple. There aren’t enough women in science. Here’s why it’s essential to fix that.
Why should you study science?
Science isn’t for everyone. Some people just don’t click with the concepts underlying biology, physics or maths, and that’s totally fine (and often a broader problem with our educational system).
But if you’re curious, if you’ve ever stuck a knife in a toaster, started taking apart a washing machine or watched a cake transform in the oven and wanted to know just what was going on, then the sciences might be your jam.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) provides you the skills and framework to pull the world apart, figure out how it works, and put it back together. But even better, it provides a way to engage with your curiosity and improve the world as a whole.
Studying science doesn’t lock you into a career in science or as a researchers either – employers from a range of fields look favorably upon science degrees.
Why should you, as a member of an underrepresented group, do science?
Women in the sciences are still unfortunately a minority. We are regularly underestimated (especially by male classmates), and I was told that I was only good at maths because of my “male brain” – an idea that is totally wrong. Shows like The Big Bang Theory (gross) and Better off Ted have encouraged the idea of scientists being awkward men in labcoats, and media still tells the story of science being done by lone genius men.
It can be frustrating to feel like you’re constantly having to prove yourself, but there is hope – Women in Science Australia, the SAGE program, Girl Day, and the International day of Women in Science all are working to support you. They are excellent networks of passionate, dedicated scientists, who think you’re awesome just for being you.
But wait – there are more benefits! Effective problem solving requires diversity of thought, something that arises from how we’re taught, socialized and raised, and (unfortunately) girls and boys are still socialized differently. This means we’ve got different ways of approaching problems.
Science is now done by the collaboration of huge teams of scientists working together. The most efficient way to work something out is to put people of different cultures, religions, and genders in a room together and let them scheme – and we can’t do that without women.
What does the future look like?
As time passes, the numbers are increasingly on our side. As more women pile into the sciences, there has been a huge increase in the number of outspoken female scientists talking about their life, their jobs, and their work. Some talented examples in Australia include Dr Krystal Evans, Upulie Divisekera, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, and Dr Lynore Geia.
The barriers to doing science are rapidly breaking down as citizen science takes off and the Internet allows access to knowledge and scientists. Media is changing, too – Orphan Black has a wonderfully diverse cast of scientists.
We carve out our space in a historically unforgiving field and in doing so create a better world. The face of science is changing, and the future looks like it’s got space for a lot more scientists from a range of backgrounds, of a range of sexualities and genders, and with any and all passions. We’re going to need them.